Capitals-Lightning Game 5: Series Squared & Back in Tampa

Jay Pryce

Friday, May 18, 2018 12:52 PM UTC

Friday, May. 18, 2018 12:52 PM UTC

The best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals between the Lightning and Capitals is all square at 2-2 as play shifts back to Tampa on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET, NBC). Pick, preview, and handicapping tips here.

Game 5: Washington (2-2) at Tampa Bay (2-2)Free NHL Pick: OverBest Line Offered: Bookmaker

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Teams holding a 2-0 series lead in the NHL playoff semifinals or finals during the conference era (1974-75) are 39-2 all-time. Washington appeared destined to play for the Stanley Cup on Monday, emerging as +150 favorites to win all after putting Tampa in a two-game hole. With the Lightning evening the matchup Thursday night with a 4-2 victory, the Caps have now slipped to third choice (+375) among oddsmakers. Will Washington join Montreal (1984) and Boston (1991) as the only franchises to yield a 2-0 advantage?

Caps are Road Warriors

The Caps are a remarkable 11-2 SU in their last 13 road playoff games, going 7-1 during the current run. Bettors are reaping a 78.3 percent return backing Washington at 114.2 average odds. The team is doing its part in a league-wide trend, seeing away teams go 40-34 this postseason at +134.8 average odds.

Backstrom is Back

The Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom, who had missed the last four games with an injured right hand, played 19 minutes in the Game 4 loss. The veteran center captained the third line, getting off four shots on goal. His production is vital to Washington’s success. The Caps won 75 percent (37-12 SU) of their games this season when Backstrom registered a point.

Tampa’s Special Teams Heating Up

Tampa’s power play is proving strong in the series with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov peppering Caps goalie Braden Holtby. Six of the Lightning’s 12 goals have come off the man advantage. The penalty kill is the difference-maker in the last two wins, however. The particular special teams area was considered a weak spot heading into the conference finals but is enjoying a 7-for-7 goalless streak after allowing three through the first two games.

Puck-Line Bets Equal Value

Following Tampa forward Anthony Cirelli’s empty-netter with two seconds to play Thursday night, 15 of the last 16 postseason games have been decided by more than a single goal. There’s nothing to lose at this point for teams trailing, and skaters are extra aggressive with the added player late, leaving little cause for concern over the abandoned pipes on the defensive end. Playing the puck line has proven very, very lucrative this postseason if nailing the winner.

Why the Pick?

The Caps dominated play in Game 4 despite the loss. They fired 38 shots at Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and controlled the puck in high-chance areas at greater frequencies. Look at the above unbalanced offensive zone shot heat map.

Tampa, in fact, failed to get a shot for a 20-minute stretch between the first and second periods. Yes, 20!

Washington has put more shots on net in each game of the series. Its 1-3-1 alignment is skating circles around Tampa defenders. The men in blue have few answers. Vasilevskiy has clearly been the best player on the ice two games in a row. He’ll break soon, and so will the Caps’ bad luck. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to go against a hot hand in goal in the playoffs. Avoid picking a side. Our play is the ‘over.’

The Lightning are 21-9 this season when holding opponents goalless on special teams in their previous meeting. The record jumps to 11-2 next time out at Amalie Arena, the contest often turning into a goal bonanza. The average score is 4.0 to 3.0 in favor of the Lightning. All but three contests have seen 7-plus goals combined. All but one has also seen a special teams goal scored. Tampa will fix its issues putting pucks on the net, while the Caps continue to drill Vasilevskiy. Expect a few more to slide in for both sides.

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